Welcome to the Emerald City. It’s easy to see how Seattle got its nickname: From green forests to Amazon’s 21st century gold rush to legalized recreational cannabis, Seattle is cool, geeky, urban and outdoorsy. This is the leading metropolis of the Pacific Northwest, home to an eco-oriented, caffeine-fueled mix of gleeful capitalism and countercultural activism.
It’s true there are many cold, gray days. But when the sun appears, everyone comes out to enjoy its glorious cameos. Many people associate Seattle with the grunge music scene of the 1990s, and there’s still a palpable sense of lowbrow brilliance by the likes of Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder (then) and Thunderpussy and Macklemore (now).
But today’s Seattle means big business. Besides Amazon, the region spawned Costco, Microsoft, Starbucks, Nordstrom and Boeing. The city is a major Pacific Rim gateway, with construction cranes filling its skies and housing costs rising among the fastest in the United States.
This is a foodie haven, too–no surprise, with the sea so close and rich farmland nearby. Menus and markets feature salmon, a bevy of berries and offbeat ingredients like fiddlehead ferns, oysters and wild mushrooms. Craft beverages are abundant, from microbrews to ciders and spirits. Washington ranks second only to California for wine production, and you’ll be sure to find the state’s best vintages served all over town.
Visitors usually spend most of their time downtown, where the waterfront, Pike Place Market (with the original Starbucks) and the Seattle Art Museum are located. The nearby Seattle Center is home to the Space Needle, the Frank Gehry-designed MoPOP (Museum of Popular Culture) and Chihuly Garden and Glass.
Amazon dominates the South Lake Union area, where you’ll find the Museum of History and Industry and the Center for Wooden Boats. Seattle got its start in Pioneer Square, now a center for nightlife, art galleries and sports action. International District attractions include the Wing Luke Museum. But this is a city of neighborhoods meant for exploring, from the eternally hip Ballard and Fremont to the always-youthful Capitol Hill to newer favorites including Columbia City, Georgetown and West Seattle.
Seattle has ample outdoor recreational riches within the city limits, including Discovery Park, Green Lake and the Burke-Gilman Trail. Not far away, you’ll find kayaking and whale watching in the Puget Sound and skiing in view of Mount Rainier.
Day-trip and weekend possibilities include wine tasting, island hopping and small-town idylls. Combining all of these can be as easy as walking onto a Washington State Ferry bound for Bainbridge Island from the Seattle waterfront or plotting a more ambitious course to the Olympic Peninsula or the San Juan Islands.
If you’re just making a quick stop, check out our Seattle Perfect Day itinerary. Chances are you’ll want to stay longer next time.
Seattle is a fun place to visit any season of the year, but May through September is by far the most popular time. The city is packed with tourists, including about a million people passing through to meet cruise ships sailing for Alaska. The weather is gorgeous and the days are long, with lots of outdoor festivals and events to enjoy. Summer is the time when locals marvel to one another that we get to live where so many other people come to play.
If Seattleites seem a bit giddy in summer, it’s because there are long stretches the rest of the year where the sun is a stranger. But even in bad weather, you can have a good time in Seattle. Fall through spring are great seasons to sample the city’s abundant arts offerings, and these can be less expensive times to visit, too.
It’s possible to see a lot of Seattle in a day or two, and many people cruising to Alaska or attending conventions bookend their trips with stays in Seattle. Especially in summer, evenings offer plenty of daylight to take in several major sights. (Note, though, that Pike Place Market’s stalls close down by 6 p.m.) See the Seattle Perfect Day itinerary for suggestions on how to make the most of a short visit.
Seattle’s attractions can easily fill a long weekend visit. A stay of three or four days means more time to explore Seattle Center and the waterfront and get a taste of a few neighborhoods. If you have a week to spare, you can explore nearby towns and islands–and if you have two weeks, you can do justice to the entire Pacific Northwest, including Portland, Vancouver, B.C. and even a national park or two.
Seattle summers are usually sublime, with clear skies, low humidity and warm temperatures. Climate change has brought occasional midsummer heat waves, but the mercury rarely goes into the 90s. A bigger concern is the increase in forest fires. Thick smoke from blazes in Eastern Washington and British Columbia affected air quality and visibility in Seattle and throughout the Northwest in summer 2017.
October through April, it rains more days than it doesn’t, but usually in a light but persistent drizzle rather than in downpours. Snow rarely sticks around for long, but you don’t want to see Seattle drivers try to deal with it (unless it’s on one of the comical YouTube videos showing such shenanigans).
The Seattle region has events year-round, though they’re especially thick spring through fall. A few to watch for include:
The Moisture Festival is pure Seattle, a mix of music, comedy and vaudeville performed for three weeks each spring in a circus-like hall behind Hale’s Brewery near Fremont and a theater on Capitol Hill.
Believe it or not, the Seattle International Film Festival is bigger than Sundance, Toronto or Cannes, at least in the number of screenings it hosts over the event’s long run in May and June. What’s even more remarkable is that sun-starved Seattleites willingly go indoors during some of the spring’s first nice days to sit in the dark and watch really good movies.
The Northwest Folklife Festival, held Memorial Day Weekend at Seattle Center, is the unofficial start to summer. Unlike the pricey Bumbershoot festival held at summer’s end on the same grounds, this one is free (though donations are appreciated).
Upstream Music Fest & Summit is a newer event that brings bands and music industry panels to Pioneer Square in early June.
The Fremont Fair in late June is best known for its Solstice Parade (and its many body-painted participants), a dog parade and a street fair. If you miss this, you can catch the Fremont Sunday Flea Market year-round on Sundays.
Seattle’s large, loud and proud LBGTQ community throws a fabulous Pride celebration every June, with many straight-but-not-narrow friends joining the fun.
The region has outdoor concerts galore each summer, but the major venues are beyond Seattle’s city limits: Marymoor Park in Redmond, White River Amphitheater in Auburn and (classiest of all) Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville. Note that the annual Sasquatch festival and other concerts at the Gorge amphitheater take place 150 miles east of Seattle. Don’t be like our unsuspecting friends who flew into Sea-Tac for a show and had no idea the Gorge is so far away.
Seafair runs for much of the summer, with dozens of events under its umbrella. Among the biggest: a torchlight parade, hydroplane races and fleet week maritime celebration.
Bumbershoot remains the year’s biggest music-oriented event, with lots of big-name bands (plus comedy and more) at Seattle Center every Labor Day Weekend.
Seattle is in the Pacific Time Zone and observes Daylight Saving Time.